Monday, March 5, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

Jane Mayer's profile of Steele dossier author Christopher Steele is a hell of a read, worthy of your time, but the real news is that Mayer dug up something that has direct implications for the 2018 Senate races: one of Steele's claims is that the Russians flat out told Trump to sink former GOP presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney as his Secretary of State.

In the spring of 2017, after eight weeks in hiding, Steele gave a brief statement to the media, announcing his intention of getting back to work. On the advice of his lawyers, he hasn’t spoken publicly since. But Steele talked at length with Mueller’s investigators in September. It isn’t known what they discussed, but, given the seriousness with which Steele views the subject, those who know him suspect that he shared many of his sources, and much else, with the Mueller team. 
One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coƶperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President. 
As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

Now, I'm not sure how accurate this is, but maybe Robert Mueller does.  Maybe this is all a ploy to make sure Trump goes after Romney in the 2018 Utah Senate race, maybe it's not.  But it makes sense, and it would be just another log on the pyre of Trump's administration when Mueller shows up to light the fire.

The biggest tell that this is legitimate is Trump's actions.  He's refused to implement sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress and he's tried to outright revers Obama-era sanctions, he hasn't ordered US Cyber Command to protect the country's internet infrastructure, and the biggest tell we found out this weekend: Trump has spent exactly $0 of $120 million allocated to State Department to counter Russian influence.

As Russia’s virtual war against the United States continues unabated with the midterm elections approaching, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy. 
As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts
The delay is just one symptom of the largely passive response to the Russian interference by President Trump, who has made little if any public effort to rally the nation to confront Moscow and defend democratic institutions. More broadly, the funding lag reflects a deep lack of confidence by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in his department’s ability to execute its historically wide-ranging mission and spend its money wisely. 
Mr. Tillerson has voiced skepticism that the United States is even capable of doing anything to counter the Russian threat.

“If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Mr. Tillerson said in an interview last month with Fox News. “And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.”

We'll see what happens, but in my mind the depths of the Russian control over Trump is near absolute.  They have him wholesale, and America is in peril.

So Far, Gunmerica Is Still The Same After Parkland

The battle over gun safety continues to play out, but we've reached the point in the proceedings where Congress quietly does nothing and Trump moves on to other things as the election cycle heats up.

Despite the bravery of the Parkland shooting survivors using their voices for change, no legislation is coming at the federal level until a new Congress is sworn in next January, and even then it will take the NRA-GOP suffering dozens of losses in the House and Senate combined to even get a bill on the table.

For now, this fight remains at the state level, and as Sam Thielman at TPM points out, multiple red states are moving ahead with new pro-gun legislation.

Here are five pro-gun bills that have moved forward in state legislatures since the February 14 shooting: 
On February 15, the day after the Parkland shooting, Idaho lawmakers introduced a bill to strengthen the state’s “stand your ground” law to the floor. The measure would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include not merely defending a shooter’s home but his or her vehicle or place of employment, as well. On Monday, the bill passed the majority-Republican Senate after a vote along party lines. 
A South Dakota bill exempts private schools and churches from a law that made it illegal to carry guns on school grounds. The bill, introduced in January, passed the House on the day of the Parkland shooting, then the Senate on Thursday. 
On Tuesday, the West Virginia House passed, by 85-14, an NRA-backed bill forcing private businesses to allow employees and visitors to keep firearms in cars parked on private property. Twenty-two states have similar “parking lot” laws. West Virginia lawmakers rejected amendments that would have made exceptions for chemical plants and churches. 
In Indiana, Rep. Jim Lucas filed an amendment this week to expand an existing bill aimed at letting Hoosiers take guns into schools and churches. Citing Parkland, Lucas says the bill now needs to be broadened to guarantee a right to carry on all state-owned property. “We just need to eliminate gun-free zones,” Lucas said according to the Indianapolis Star
On Wednesday, Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt, a Republican, introduced a bill to let people carry guns in airports, with a special provision that bars local governments from passing their own gun regulations. It is next scheduled for consideration on Tuesday, March 6. 
And of course, pro-gun lawmakers have also been busy fighting off gun control measures. In Virginia alone, the NRA took a victory lap for having defeated more than 60 restrictions on guns proposed to the general assembly during a single legislative session, including universal background checks, and a law that would have required gun owners to report firearms stolen. The group declared that particular victory six days after Parkland.

Ohio Republicans too are moving forward with a stand your ground bill as I said last week.  The only path to meaningful legislative change is going to be a massive defeat at the polls for NRA-backed candidates in November, folks.

We need to help make that happen.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Axios's Jon Swan gives us something that could be a major leak in the Mueller probe: a list of communications related to a Grand Jury subpoena.

Axios has reviewed a Grand Jury subpoena that Robert Mueller's team sent to a witness last month.

What Mueller is asking for: Mueller is subpoenaing all communications — meaning emails, texts, handwritten notes, etc. — that this witness sent and received regarding the following people:
  1. Carter Page
  2. Corey Lewandowski
  3. Donald J. Trump
  4. Hope Hicks
  5. Keith Schiller
  6. Michael Cohen
  7. Paul Manafort
  8. Rick Gates
  9. Roger Stone
  10. Steve Bannon 
The subpoena asks for all communications from November 1, 2015, to the present. Notably, Trump announced his campaign for president five months earlier — on June 16, 2015.

If this is true (and the Mueller probe has been pretty damn good up until now with leaks, so I have some mild doubts) then the question becomes who's the witness, who is the person not on this list who would know everyone else and would have the pull to communicate directly with all these people, including Trump, and was with the Trump campaign since November 2015?

The obvious answer at first glance is former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but we already know there's a 99.99% chance he's cooperating given the only charge he's facing is lying to the FBI, so Mueller wouldn't need to issue a subpoena as he already has Flynn by the short hairs.  It's most likely not him.

It could in theory be Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but this is a pretty wide-ranging list.  Sessions may be an unapologetic antebellum Southern good-ol'-boy racist, but he isn't personally sloppy enough to leave all this communication around in an e-mail trail, particularly with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.  He doesn't really have a reason to communicate with Schiller (Trump's former bodyguard) or Roger Stone, so it's not Sessions, either.

It could be Donald Trump Jr., he seems like the kind of guy (unlike Sessions) to be this sloppy and he does know all these people and could communicate with them, but if that were true, well, the guy can't keep his mouth shut as he's just like his dad.  We'd know if he had been subpoenaed as he'd be screaming on Twitter about it.  Junior seems unlikely to be the witness here as a result.

So who is it?

My guess is the witness in question is Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  He's under the most pressure right now from all the events last week.  We know Mueller is concentrating on him as the nexus of the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, the international money laundering, and the resulting obstruction of justice cover-up.  He would definitely have the clout to communicate directly with all ten of the above people, and he definitely would have been involved in the Trump campaign from November 2015 until now.  He fits all the criteria.

But the bigger question is how Mueller would be able to confirm all of Jared's communications with all these people.  You would almost think that the FBI has investigations into all the people on that list that it could use to confirm the witness was indeed providing the information in the subpoena.

That's what really makes me think the witness in question is Kushner.  He's the most important name not on the list, who isn't known to be cooperating, and there's just too much bad news coming out about him now to make me think this isn't an avalanche of pressure designed to get him to play ball.

Stay tuned.


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